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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Former state Supreme Court justice starts new job with Greensboro law firm

Former state Supreme Court justice Sam J. Ervin IV starts a new job today in the Greensboro office of Brooks Pierce, a 125-year-old law firm with about 110 lawyers.

The Harvard Law School graduate brings a resume that includes the past eight years as a justice on the state Supreme Court, six years on the state Court of Appeals bench before that, and more than nine years as a member of the North Carolina Utilities Commission.

Ervin says he looks forward to a return to private practice, something he did from 1981 to 1999 in his hometown of Morganton, where he lives.

Former N.C. Supreme Court justice Sam J. Ervin IV has taken a job with the Greensboro-based Brooks Pierce law firm.

“After taking three to four months off, my mind started telling me it was time to get back to work,” says Ervin, known by friends as Jimmy. “Some of us just need to be doing something and I’ve been in the legal profession 40 years now and it’s what I know, it’s who I am.”

Ervin became available after the 2022 election, when the Democrat lost his bid for a second, eight-year term on the state’s high court to Republican Trey Allen.

American history majors and those over 50 associate the Ervin name with his grandfather, U.S. Sen. Sam Ervin, the self-described “country lawyer” who gained global attention as chairman of the Watergate Committee investigating President Richard Nixon. Hearings led by Ervin led to Nixon’s resignation in 1974.

President Jimmy Carter appointed Ervin’s father to the federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia in 1980.

In his new post, Ervin will focus on matters related to appellate work, general business litigation and white collar criminal defense work. He will also handle Utilities Commission cases. 

“I’m looking forward to getting my hands dirty and getting back into the practice of helping individuals and businesses with legal issues,” says Ervin. “I hope I can do something that’s of benefit to the firm and their clients.”

Ervin also expects to serve as a mentor at Brooks Pierce, which also has offices in Raleigh and Wilmington.

“Justice Ervin’s perspective, professionalism and knowledge of the law will enrich our internal dialogues and help us continue to navigate important issues for our clients,” Brooks Pierce partner and litigator Craig Schauer stated in a release.

Starting a new job is never easy at any age. There’s the task of finding the office coffee maker and the bathroom. But after presiding over the state’s highest courts for 15 years, Ervin says he doesn’t have any nervousness.

“I know a lot has changed, but I have observed private practice a lot from the bench,” he says. “I’ve always enjoyed helping people who have legal problems.”

Appointment changes

The N.C. Utilities Commission, where Ervin formerly served, is the source of debate at the N.C. General Assembly where Senate leaders, including President Pro Tem Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, want to change how appointments are made at the agency. A proposed bill would reduce the seven-member board into a five-member board, and provide the General Assembly with two appointments and the state treasurer, one. The governor, who now appoints the commissioners, would be restricted to two picks.

Ervin declined to comment, noting the change would likely be argued at the Supreme Court. He doesn’t speculate on actions by his former court.

Ervin expects to spend time in Greensboro and Raleigh for work, though he is a veteran of remote work from his Morganton home. A lawyer’s work often involves reading and creating documents, he says. While a member of the N.C. Utilities Commission from 1999, he would spend three days a week in Raleigh, then return home the remaining four.

On the Supreme Court, he spent 18 months during the pandemic working solely from his home office.

In addition to his legal work, Ervin has had a side gig as a soccer referee since 1996. Regulations kept him from being paid for the work while he was a member of the utilities commission.

His high school, Freedom in Burke County, didn’t field a team. So the first game he saw was as an undergraduate at Davidson College.

His stepchildren played soccer, and his wife, Mary, was in charge of recruiting referees. He “reluctantly agreed” to attend referee school, he says, and found that he enjoys refereeing soccer matches.

NOTE: This story has been edited to correct information related to Senate Bill 512, which would change the number of members on the Utility Commission from seven to five, as well as how they are appointed.

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